Time Investment: 5 Minutes
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Have you ever seen an agitated post in a Facebook group like this: “My client just did X, even though the photography contract says explicitly that they can’t! Don’t people READ?”
The answer to their question is - no, they really don’t.
In fact, The Guardian reported that a UK-based Wi-Fi company once snuck in a joke clause that obliged people to one thousand hours of cleaning toilets and scraping gum off sidewalks in order to use their hotspot.
Over a period of two weeks, 22,000 users hit Agree. Only one person opted out of that clause.
One in twenty-two thousand.
So, things aren’t looking good for people to thoroughly read legal documents you hand to them.
But your contract doesn’t just protect you. Having a contract is a service to your client - it prevents unpleasant surprises later, helps them know what you will and won’t do, and sets the stage for a great relationship.
Of course, you can’t force people to read and absorb the meaning of every word - not even if they have to initial every single paragraph. But there are a few simple tricks that may incline them to read more closely than they otherwise would have. And since they’re so easy to do, why not tilt those odds in your favor?
Trick #1: Make a “trailer” for your contract.
Movie trailers heighten interest by highlighting parts the audience will find most immediately interesting.
When you send the contract over, don’t just say “Hey, here’s the contract, read it carefully and send it back.”
Tell them what they’ll get out of reading it - and highlight the things they care most about.
Here’s an example:
Attached is our contract. Inside you will see all the specifics, including:
- What materials you’re agreeing to send me
- How quickly you can expect the finished product
- What to do if something unexpected comes up on your end
...along with other important details of our agreement. Read it closely, and let me know what questions I can answer!
Do you see what we did there? We phrased it as: “Materials you’re agreeing to send to me.” Not: “Materials I needfrom you.”
To be blunt: People care more about themselves than they do about what you need. So anytime you go to use the word “I” in your trailer, change it to “you.”
No: “Materials I need from you”
Yes: “Materials you’re agreeing to send.”
Direct people’s attention to specific things that impact them directly. It will make them want to go look for those exact items.
Be strategic with what you include. If people habitually hand stuff in late or want to reschedule, hinting at this in your trailer will make them go look for it, increasing the likelihood that they’ll see that policy.
You don’t need to summarize the whole contract, but highlighting a few key pieces scattered throughout the actual contract will keep their eyes moving.
And of course in your trailer, make sure you explain that it’s more than just those items they’re agreeing to, these are just a few examples.
Trick #2: In your ‘trailer,’ add something unexpected.
You know that thing when you’ve been driving on a road too long, and you sort of glaze over and stop paying attention? It’s called highway hypnosis, and it’s real.
I believe there is also a kind of ‘contract hypnosis.’ People start reading but glaze over “yes yes, I know, okay get me to the signature line.”
And if you’re not careful, people might start to glaze over even just in your summary of the contract.
So drop something unexpected in your preview.
If it works with your brand, add a little humor to the trailer.
Read this contract, and you’ll learn what you’re agreeing to, how long our project will take, and the secret to flawless skin. Okay, not so much that last one, but you will learn how many hours I will spend making your project shine, which will put a glowing smile on your face. Read on →
That unexpected line snaps their attention back and lets them know - hey, you don’t know everything that’s in here yet. This might even be more fun than I thought. You’ll put people on notice to pay attention because they don’t already know where this is going. And you’ll also put them in a better mood.
You don’t need to write a whole stand-up routine. If you have a bulleted list, simply add an unexpected, hyper-specific, or silly example - it snaps people’s attention back to the task at hand:
- What to do if something unexpected comes up on your end, like illness, delay, or an impending zombie apocalypse.
- Sign and send your contract back by email, post, or registered flying monkey, we aren’t picky.
While some big companies do add humor as hidden rewards for reading in the contract itself -
(Tumblr famously noted in its community guidelines, after you agree not to impersonate anyone: “While you're free to ridicule, parody, or marvel at the alien beauty of Benedict Cumberbatch, you can't pretend to actually be Benedict Cumberbatch.")
- I would not recommend messing around with the legal language of the contract itself. Especially if it hasn’t been screened by a lawyer. You don’t want to inadvertently compromise the document for the sake of being funny.
BUT there is something you can still do in your contract that will help your clients - which brings us to:
Trick #3: In the contract itself, mind your bookends.
Pay attention to what comes first and last in any lists in the contract. Research shows that in a series of things, we tend to remember the first and last thing we see.
Why not identify the two things that frustrate you most, that clients tend to forget, or that they simply cannot miss. If it makes no difference in the legal structure of the document, make those the first and last items they will see. When someone is reading through a long document, they are more likely to both see and remember these ‘bookend’ items better. Simple, yet effective.
By introducing the contract with a ‘trailer’ they care about, adding something unexpected in that intro, and putting key items first and last, you’ll subtly smooth your relationships with clients.
And possibly save yourself from a zombie apocalypse. (Or just an angry client.)
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